Reducing neonatal deaths in South Africa: progress and challenges
Although current levels of the neonatal mortality rate (NMR) are within reach of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of 12 per 1 000 live births, the absolute number of deaths is unacceptably high for a lower-middle-income country such as South Africa (SA). Neonatal mortality over the last decade has declined very slowly, and is not commensurate with the level of government investment in healthcare. The recent neonatal mortality rate of 21 per 1 000 live births reported by the SA Demographic Health Survey is of major concern. This paper reviews recent efforts to reduce the neonatal mortality rate, including support for the implementation of neonatal policies and plans, and strengthening programmes to deliver low-cost, high-impact interventions. We review recent estimates of the NMR and causes of neonatal deaths, and discuss how the mortality from preventable causes of death could be reduced. If SA is to meet the SDG target, special attention should be given to the availability of high-impact interventions, providing an adequate number of appropriately trained healthcare providers and a more active role played by ward-based community health workers and district clinical specialist teams.
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